Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chapter 5. The Father of Asurangi

The clan neighboring Ueasungi was known as Takeda. The Takedas were superb horsemen and one of the noblest families of Japan. The young daimyo Takeda Shingen hath known Lady Ueasungi Sakura since childhood and certainly had feelings for her. In some sense, he felt that one day, it would be reciprocated.

Although the Takedas were one of the noblest families of Japan, Shingen did not look down on the untrained farmers. Instead, he saw potential in them. They were easier to recruit and equipped than the elite horsemen he hath inherited. Takeda bought guns from Portuguese merchants at Sakai and Nagaski and equipped these farmers, training them to shoot. Once they became asurangi (or farmer gunners), they could improve their lot and go to battle with them.

Takeda Shingen, Father of the Asurangi army

Shingen was aware that Hojo Soeun was now aged and sometimes even ill. His greatest general, Kajima Yanitaka, was also growing old. The Hojos were used to attacking the lands and certainly did not think they would face danger from a smaller clan like Takeda. But in a bold move, Takeda and only 5,000 asurangi invaded the Hojo border. He had only 200 horsemen to support this attack.

Yanitaka went forth to fight him, taking with him Hojo Chinosuke, the son of his daimyo Hojo Soeun. The Hojos had more 10,000 men, and they were initially confident of success. They felt that the Takeda riders were great, but only 200 of them would not amount to much.

Instead of charging against the Hojos, however, Shingen ordered the Takeda asurangi to open fire. When one group had shot their volley, they would step aside to reload, while another group came up to fire at the Hojos. The Hojo losses were heavy, and Yanitaka himself was injured. Just then, Chinosuke, taking command of his injured Co decided to order the retreat.

Shingen ordered the asurangi to stop firing and ordered the horsemen to charge. They scattered the Hojo troops, but soon Chinosuke came to his senses and ordered the Hojo warriors to surround the outnumbered horsemen. Alas, the Takeda riders were amongst the best in Japan, and at the sound of Shingen’s whistle, they ran back to his line.

The Hojo army pursued them, but it was too late. Shingen again ordered the asurangi to open fire on them. Chinosuke realized the army was unable to sustain such great losses and so ordered the entire Hojo army to retreat back to their capital Odawara. The border city was lost to Takeda Shingen’s much smaller force.

Just then, Shingen asked, “Who shot Yanitaka of the Hojos?”

But no one answered. However, when Shingen found the man who did, he questioned him, “Why did you not answer me?”

The asurangi replied, “My Lord, I am but a humble farmer. I dare not speak in your greatness.”

To which Shingen replied, “Let it be known that Takeda Shingen does not base a man’s value on class or social status but solely on his merits to the Takeda clan. Rise, Captain.”

And so in this manner, a humble farmer was promoted to the rank of a Captain. It was unthinkable in class-conscious Japan in those days. The asurangis loved Takeda Shingen. They realized that he was different from the other daimyos, and only through him could they ever hope to improve their lot. For this reason, the asurangi fought for him with great devotion and without concern for their own safety.

Shingen was a man who took opportunity when he saw it. The Hosakawa clan was now estranged from the Ashikagas, and they were much weakened. Shingen decided that it was now his opportunity to conquer them. Hosokawa Kanematsu was on his deathbed with few allies left. Nevertheless, his envoy reached the Uesungi court, and Uesungi Takotara decided to help an old friend, so he sent his generals Sakamoto Hachida and Uesungi Kenshin to rescue Hosokawa.

It was Kenshin’s first encounter with the formidable Takeda army. Shingen ordered his asurangis to open fire on the combined Hosokawa and Uesungi armies. Once again, he was outnumbered but had no fear in his heart. Kenshin heard the sounds of gunfire as loud as the roaring thunder. Hundreds of men fell in seconds, and more would soon fall. Kenshin realized that the battle was lost before it was even fought, so he ordered a retreat.

Soon, all of the Hosokawa territory fell to the Takedas. Shingen met Kanematsu at his deathbed and demanded, “Recognise me as your heir, so you will not die in shame. Otherwise, others will say that Hosokawa was conquered by me today.”

Kanematsu replied through his cough, “How can I call a gift that which is theft? Why do you hate me so?”

Shingen, who was only 25 at the time, replied, “Old man, you and I are both from the noblest families of Japan, but you despise the commoners whom I have always upheld. I will change the order of this Empire, for the days of the Ashikaga are numbered.”

It was then that Kanematsu realized how different Shingen was from his Uesungi allies, who placed honor above all things and would never lift a finger against the Ashikaga Shogunate which they sought to preserve.

In his vile bitterness, Kanematsu screamed through bitter tears, “I will never name you as my heir. You are no better than a commoner, Takeda though you may be!”

“Suit yourself, old man. The Hosokawa clan ends today,” Shingen said. With these words, Shingen plunged his sword through Kanematsu’s heart and from that day onwards, the sword became known as the Kanematsu sword. The Takeda now absorbed the Hosokawa clan into their own, just as the Hojos hath conquered half of it before.

Back at Echido, Hachida accused Kenshin of insubordination and cowardice before their lord Uesungi Takotara, but the daimyo knew that Kenshin was no coward, so he questioned him, “Why did you order the retreat, Kenshin? …and disobey your superior nontheless.”

To which Kenshin replied, “My Lord, it is no point wasting soldier’s life on a campaign we can not win. I have seen Shingen’s asurangi, and I can say it was not worth fighting him on that day. Much better to preserve our forces and meet him later.”

“Liar!” shouted Hachida, “You are nothing but a coward.”

To which Kenshin made a vow, “And one day, I shall defeat Shingen himself.” And his eyes watched Takotara, who could see fiery determination in the Dragon of Echido as he hath never seen before.

“My Lord,” Hachida continued. “Do not believe him. As his superior, I request that you give me permission to behead him this instant.”

But Takotara put his palm up and stopped Hachida, “And as your liege lord, I command you to respect my decision. Kenshin, I will hold you to your word.”

Hachida was furious at this perceived unfairness. Seeing Kenshin spared from a death penalty, his heart was consumed by envy, and it would not bode well for the Uesungi clan in these troubled times.

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